Monday, January 30, 2017

My Experience in Israel by Kupakwashe Yedidah Marazani

My Experience in Israel
By Kupakwashe Yedidah Marazani
from Harare Lemba Synagogue Newsletter (Zimbabwe)

My participation in Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv Jaffa left me with a lot of experience in the humanitarian field. Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv Jaffa is a Jewish pluralist organisation that works with young Jewish people from around the globe. It engages them to work to contribute their skills to poor neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv particularly South Tel Aviv. Tikkun Olam works with a lot of organizations in Tel Aviv such as Messila, Yalla Africa, Windows, Kadima Youth Centers, Bialik School to mention but a few. I worked with Yalla Africa as my internship. Yalla Africa is a social network movement that helps young people from Africa to express themselves through media as it advocates for peace, innovation, new projects and ideas through the use of facebook, blog, and twitter. Part of my work was to find opportunities for young African people by getting links on websites like Ofa (Opportunitis for Africa) to help young people who finished high school, college and universities in various fields to advance their education through funded programs. I then posted links on the Yalla Africa facebook page. The internship helped me to develop confidence to work in an office environment and to research what to post on our networks by following the Yalla Africa weekly media strategy plan framework, for example macro agriculture, Africa is beautiful, motivational quotes, positive mindset, environmental issues like pollution, land degradation, water and land degradation and to research about solutions to these problems.

I also had two volunteering places, one of them being the potter day care for the elderly people that I attended every Monday and Wednesday mornings till the afternoons. My duties were to help the kitchen staff to help setting up tables for lunch, teaching elderly people computers, English, helping decorate the home for the holidays like Independence and Passover and I worked to help with anything general that needed to be done at the home. Elderly people really needed young people around them to tell them their life stories and in some cases they just need company of people around them. My time at the elderly people’s day care centre made me to improve my spoken Hebrew as most of them spoke Hebrew. My second voluntary place was The Kadima after school program for young children from poor neighbourhoods of South Tel Aviv. I worked with Kadima to help children from disadvantaged families to stop dropping out of schools and to become part of a normative society and not to fall into its dangerous margins. I taught English and math to young children for their after school program and I planned lessons that were taught in a fun way suitable for an after school program. I helped them with their homework for math and English. My Hebrew also improved during my time at Kadima and I gained experienced to work with young children.

I learned a lot by interning and volunteering through Tikkun Olam, by getting immersed into the Israeli society I got to know about the Israeli culture. By working with people from different backgrounds, this boosted my confidence and exchange of Ideas. I learnt about the rich history of Israel and I met very meaningful friends in my program and by working with my supervisors I developed skills like presentations, workshops, social networking, writing skills, and research. I also discovered that it is possible for young Africans to participate in Tikkun Olam in the near future.

I would like to thank the Kulanu Board for supporting me with airfare and partial living expenses the airfare, and to thank the MASA program and Tikkun Olam program for my program tuition and additional expenses. I’m very grateful for your support and I am very hopeful to see Jewish young people from isolated communities taking an initiative to participate in Tikkun Olam in the near future. Such an internship and volunteering opens doors for job markets by improving their resume and experience. It also improves spoken and written Hebrew by taking Ulpun classes and understanding the Jewish peoplehood, culture, and religion through taking twice a week seminars.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Participant Spotlight: Daniel Egea

Daniel was born in Brazil and grew up in a small town called Sao Caetano do Sul near São Paulo, where he lives with his sister and mother. Daniel has always been Jewish, but this identity did not become important to him until the age of 15 after he studied his family’s genealogy. As he learned more and more, he realized Judaism was a central value of his ancestors. Compelled to feel more connected to his roots and his family’s religion Daniel began to go to the small shul (synnagogue) in his community and has been an active member ever since.

A few months ago, he decided to leave Brazil for the first time to spend a year of his life in Israel, volunteering and learning about Judaism with Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Until he arrived to Ben Gurion Airport, Daniel had had hardly any connection to global Judaism. However, since the moment his feet touched ground in Israel, with the chagim (holidays), the ruach (energy), and his desire to understand this country, its history and its society, he found what he had lacked all these years: a sense of belonging to the Am Israel.

Daniel left his job as an accountant to volunteer in Israel in two different Elderly homes, where he helps with lunches and shares his passion for Brazilian music and dance by teaching classes to residents.

For Daniel, being in the Holy Land is a dream. His eyes are alive with the joy of learning and his heart is overflowing with love for Torah and the Jewish people. His fellow participant have said “Daniel is the heart of our group, he brings love and smiles to us all.”

This Thursday, Daniel becomes a Bar Mitzvah!! He did not get the chance to when he was 13, and this year as he is turns 31 (the opposite of 13), Tikkun Olam participants and staff will gather at Daniels Center to celebrate as he commits his adult life to Jewish values.

Mazal Tov, Daniel! We are so happy to have you on Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Participant Spotlight: Erin West

Hey y’all, I’m Erin West from the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. I vacillate wildly between being a granola hippie and a medium-maintenance millennial, often both at the same time. I do, however, maintain an unwavering love for dogs (with mine at the top of that list) and a personal mission to have even the tiniest positive effect on the world around me.

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2016 and here in Israel I am volunteering with Holland Center for children with special needs, Porter Elderly Center, and the Clinic for Asylum Seekers. The volunteer opportunities at Tikkun Olam vary widely across the non-profit sphere. As such I was able to select placements that fulfill me personally, gain experience in my desired field, and to give my time and energy in a way that benefits the communities I am serving.

I found Tikkun Olam through BINA’s Taglit (Birthright) extension program, where I was able to volunteer with Tel Aviv’s asylum-seeking community. I wanted to engage with the people of Israel and learn about the complexities of society and politics. In general, to learn about Israel beyond the rose-colored glasses of Birthright or the fear-mongering of American media. After the brief volunteer and educational program I participated in, I realized BINA was the kind of organization that asks and listens in order to provide a service which is actually needed. After establishing that and finding Tikkun Olam, it was just figuring out the details! Now, after 2.5 months, I know I made the right decision.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Participant Spotlight: Rachel Fried

My name is Rachel Fried. I am a tree-hugging vegetarian from Fredericksburg, VA. I have a Masters in Health Administration from Tulane University. I chose the Tikkun Olam in Tel-Aviv-Jaffa program to make the best use of my degree and further my career, while deepening my connection to tikkun olam and Israel. I am interning at Public Clinic Terem TLV, located in the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station, which provides non emergency healthcare to those outside the national healthcare system, mainly asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. I am also volunteering at an after school program for at-risk children in South Tel Aviv - Bialik Rogozin School For Immigrant Children. Tikkun Olam in Tel-Aviv Jaffa believes it is important to volunteer in the communities where we live, so once a week my roommates I and are volunteering with Nofim School in Kiryat Shalom, where we will be teaching English through theater and drama games. Over the next 10 months, I am looking forward to learning Hebrew, exploring Israeli culture, and traveling around this beautiful country. I can already tell this will be a year of immense personal and professional growth for me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Green Lines and Grey Areas

Shachar May, 22 years old, raised in New Jersey, is a current participant on Tikkun Olam's spring semester coexistence track. Shachar is spending her time on the program volunteering at Gesher Clinic, a psychiatric clinic for asylum seekers and other persons without status in Israel, Porter Center Elderly day center, where she is leading an art class, and Etty Hillelsum Israeli Youth Theater. 

“Liminal” is a favorite word of mine.  Coming from the Latin “limen,” meaning “threshold”, the word originated to describe a person’s state while they are in the midst of a transformative ritual – the in-between state where they are neither here nor there. These days, it’s an esoteric term used in anthropology and gender studies to describe people who are “betwixt and between” – people who have fallen through the cracks of society and are neither insiders nor outsiders.

As a half-Israeli, half-American, the best word I have for my identity is “liminal”. Growing up, we visited my mother’s family in Israel every year. I half understood the language. I was half familiar with the culture. Coming to Shabbat dinner with my entire extended family feels half like a tourist visit and half like a homecoming. In the States, I introduced myself with my last name, “May”, for almost 5 years to avoid having to explain the pronunciation of my first name. In the social-justice oriented circles I lived and worked in, pro-Israeli stances were unpopular. I resented the time I had spent in Jewish day school because I felt that I had only received biased information. I saw that my upbringing was secluded and lacked diversity.
I often fielded questions about Israeli conflict and culture from non-Jewish friends, and my answers were always ambivalent. I lived with a dual identity in a double-reality. I didn’t know how I felt. I felt that being Israeli was incredibly important to me, but the more I read about the political realities the less I agreed with my country’s actions.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Tom Albert, age 25, born in Israel and raised in California, is a current 10-month participant on Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. During her time on the program Tom is interning at Latet, Israeli Humanitarian Aid Organization, providing assistance to population groups in distress. 

Never in a million years did I think I'd end up living in Israel again. I mean, I was born here, and all my extended family still lives here, but I grew up and was raised in the states.  Sure, I'd visit every summer and enjoy my time here.  Every day would be so packed- breakfast with one family, lunch with the cousins, and dinner at grandparents. Lather, rinse, repeat until the month was over and we'd fly back home.

Home. It's such a complicated word for me. I remember when it was time to leave Israel to fly back to California, our families would take us to the old airport, before the Ben Gurion Airport was built, and they'd stay with us as we checked in. In that old airport, the check in counters where on the bottom floor, and to get to security, passengers would need to go upstairs. I remember riding that escalator up, crying as I waved goodbye to my Israeli family. I grew to intensely dislike that escalator, and dreaded it every time we left Israel. We were leaving one home to go to another. I hated leaving but I loved coming back.

Over the years I had come to terms with the fact that my family life was different than most. My friends got to visit their grandparents on the weekends and were best friends with their cousins.  I saw my grandparents once a year, and as I grew older, knew less and less about the lives of my cousins. Despite this, I still had such a strong connection to my Israeli family. But I accepted the fact that I would carry out my life across the world from them.

That is, until my parents decided to move back to Israel. After 18 years in the states, they decided it was time to return home, to be close to the ones they love. This move was very difficult for me and I knew that it would change a lot. I was still in graduate school, and did not see Israel as a destination spot in my future.

However, sometimes life has a tendency to surprise you.  The first time I visited my family's new home, in Israel, after 5 months of not seeing my parents or brothers, I felt a connection to Israel that I hadn't in all the years past that I visited. It didn't feel like a visit anymore, it felt like this was where I belonged. Immediately after my visit I decided to look into different programs and options that would get me to Israel.  I wanted to discover if I could actually see myself living in Israel for…ever? I couldn't wait to explore this country, one that I had always called home yet also always felt like a foreigner. I couldn't wait to live near my family again and be able to spend Shabbat dinner with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

It has been 8 months since I moved to Israel. During this time I made Israeli friends, danced at Israeli clubs, visited my grandparents on the weekend, met my new baby cousin, and (re)connected with my Jewish identity. Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa gave me the structure I needed, and introduced to my life new best friends from all over the world. Living in Israel has given me the opportunity to spend time with my family, be there when my middle brother got drafted to the Air Force, watch the Superbowl with my dad and little brother, and attend my mom's daycare holiday party. I get to strengthen the relationships with my cousins, aunts and uncles that I missed out on for 19 years.

I am not ready to leave Israel once Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa ends. I have decided to stay, for now. However, I miss America. The culture I relate to, the food I love most, the hobbies I enjoy are all mostly American. My best friends and college memories are in the states. No matter where I am, I will be missing an important part of my life. But I'd like to think that my connections are strong enough to withstand space and time.

 They say that home is where the heart is, but what happens when your heart resides in more than one place? I'd like to say that it means I'm pretty darn lucky to have my heart be filled with so many people and so much love. If my hardest challenge in life is that I have too many loving people in my life who live far away from each other, then I think I'm one of the luckiest people in the world. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Peacocks and Improbability

Izi Silverstein, originally from Hotchkiss, Colorado is a current participant on Tikkun Olam's spring semester Internship Track. During the program Izi is volunteering with Beit Dror, a temporary home for LGBTQ youth, Kadima, an after-school center for at-risk youth from disadvantaged families, and at the Bat Yam Educational Farm.

After arriving two weeks ago in Tel Aviv, I can say without doubt that I had no idea just how absurd peacocks were until the last few days. A peacock in full array is an ostentatious display that’s practically comical to view. At nine in the morning, as I round the corner of Bina before class, I look to my left and I see Ruben, our track coordinator, and Jen, my roommate, standing on two plastic chairs, intently focused on the roof to our right. I turn to see the focus of their careful preoccupation, and lo and behold are three peacocks in the midst of courting.

            The male peacock’s feathers fan out proudly, but neither of the females seem to have any interest in his show. The display is put on at various angles for the next five minutes or so before he finally gets a response, by which time much of the rest of our group has shown up to watch the spectacle. As we are silently peering, trying not to alert the peacocks, I find myself marveling at the sheer absurdity of peacocks – how evolution shaped something so immeasurably beautiful and preposterous amazes me. 

            I sometimes feel like the peacock since arriving in Israel. I ended up here through a series of unpredictable turns, crazy last minute planning, and sheer good fortune. Honestly, I’m still in shock that I am actually here. But whatever mishaps of fate lead to the peacock and his display or to my arrival here, it is beautiful, and I am in awe.

            In the classes we have had up to this week, one particular message has stuck with me: When we speak of Jewish peoplehood, what does it mean to exist as a people with a 2,000 year continued narrative, and why does it matter? Whether or not you believe in the narrative of an unbroken lineage of Jews from biblical times until today, whether or not you hold to genetic testings or Torah as historical proof, the absurd reality is that as Jews today, we are continuing one of the most fascinating, complex cultures and religions to exist. Cultures and traditions formed in diaspora have intermingled here in Israel, and we now have in this country a situation very unlike anywhere else in the world. Just sticking to the ideas of a Jewish people living together (rather than attempting to delve into the incredible complexity of Israel as a state itself), Jews now are in a place to create and form a new intentional history, one that hopefully reflects the beauty of mitzvot and of the larger world that Judaism exists within. I’m not yet sure where I fit in that narrative, or how my time here can make a difference in the larger reality of Israel or of Jews, but I cannot wait to find out.

The past two weeks have served as an introduction to the program, Hebrew, and Tel Aviv – intensive ulpan, Jewish study, and tours of different volunteer organizations have filled my days from beginning to end. As the first non-orientation week begins, I am so excited to begin my own exploration and work here. I’m not sure yet what it is that I will find, or what I will accomplish, but however inexplicable it may be, I hope that it as beautiful and as wild as the peacock and its improbability.